Why mess with memories?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

This spring millions of Disney fans around the world asked the same question: Why mess with the memories? You see, Disney was preparing to release a live-action remake of the beloved animated classic, “Beauty and the Beast.” Fans pored over every frame of the trailers, every leaked set photo, and every circulating rumor to discover if the remake could live up to the original. People rightly wondered, “Why would Disney mess with our memories of the classic?” Anyone with fond memories of the original wouldn’t necessarily want those old memories replaced with new ones.

Like devoted Disney fans, we all have fond memories we’d never want to give up—the day of your wedding, the carefree summers of your childhood, the moment you welcomed your first child into the world, the professional success you achieved after long years of effort. But we surely also have many sour memories as well.

I think it’s fair to say that, for many people, our memories of the church aren’t always the fond kind. You may have witnessed the church at its worst. Perhaps an individual church member betrayed you, or church leadership let you down, or the attitude of an entire community of believers drove you away. When our memories of church are negative (and they often are), the thought of stepping inside those doors again make us wonder, “Why mess with those memories?”

I won’t claim that our church is perfect—we’ve had our share of ugly moments. But I will say that the church was never meant to depend on the strength of its members. If that were true, every church would have failed long ago.

The power of the church comes from the truth that binds it together. God designed the church to share remarkable unity that comes not from the members, but from the head—Jesus. We share one faith, one heart, one mission, one voice, and one Lord.

This month we have begun a new worship series at St. Stephen Lutheran Church called, “The Power of One.” In this series we’re going to look at the remarkably simple and powerful design Jesus has for his church—a design that can overcome all our sinful weakness and selfish behavior.

Whether you’ve got good memories of church, bad memories of church, or no memories of church, I hope you’ll spend time with us one Sunday morning to hear the Power of One that Jesus wants us all to remember above all else.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Will death define your life?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

A new book, “On Living,” comes from Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain whose full-time job is caring for people as they die. She is a self-styled “Grim Reaper in clogs” and has vast experience working with the dying. She offers this advice:

If there is any great difference between the people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it’s this: They know they’re running out of time. They have more motivation to do the things they want to do, and to become the person they want to become. There’s nothing stopping you from acting with the same urgency the dying feel.”

I have no doubt that Chaplain Egan offers tremendous compassion to the dying, but I wonder why she’d offer such advice to the living. The stress of running behind schedule on Monday morning is already enough, why would I want to apply the same time’s–running–out principle to my entire life?

Now, to be fair, Egan is right that people often ignore their mortality and therefore live without a useful perspective on life. Chaplain Egan probably hopes her readers can benefit from a memento mori every now and again. I’d agree. But let’s not cheerfully promote death to the role of life coach!

Death is the greatest crisis of existence faced by every human being, so it’s understandable that we might try to marshal death to the cause of life—what else can we do? But beware, underneath our platitudes lurks the idea that the time you have in this life is all the time you’ll get.

But the claim of Jesus Christ is that there is infinitely more to life beyond this body’s death. Even more, the claim of Jesus Christ is that all who believe in him will be bodily resurrected to a new life that is both greater in quantity and quality than this one. And the claim Jesus made he backed up with a remarkable, public, historically–verified miracle: he himself rose died and rose again. If a hospice chaplain is qualified to tell us about death, then surely a man who rose from death is qualified to define life.

If a hospice chaplain is qualified to tell us about death, then surely a man who rose from death is qualified to define life.

Even if you are skeptical of Christ’s claims, don’t you at least want them to be true? Don’t you desire that wrongs be made right? Don’t you crave justice and peace? Don’t you yearn for the joy on the other side?

This Easter is the best time to at least take a look. The Christ’s claim and offer is too great to ignore. Maybe you’ll conclude it’s all nothing. Or perhaps, like hundreds of people just like you, you’ll see the evidence yourself and be free from the fear of death now and forever. It’s at least worth a look.

I invite you to join us for Easter Sunday worship at St. Stephen Lutheran this coming Sunday, April 16 at 9:30am.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett


New Worship Series

Epicenter

Any event of significant seismic magnitude sends waves of energy that can be felt hundreds of miles from the epicenter. The resurrection of Jesus is an event of such cosmic magnitude that its effects are felt in every corner of life. The empty tomb of Jesus is the epicenter of religious truth that ruptures our fragile human wisdom and establishes in its place an unshakable foundation of divine revelation.

On Easter we see that everything starts with Easter, or ends without it. Human wisdom assumes that all religious claims are essentially the same—enigmatic sayings to help you make sense of life. But Christianity makes a claim unlike any other—either a particular man named Jesus was raised from the dead or his life (and ours) ultimately means nothing. Easter is the central historical event that establishes a central religious truth. Without this truth everything ends, but with this truth everything is just beginning!

  1. April 16 – Everything starts with Easter (or ends without it)
  2. April 23 – The central feature of faith
  3. April 30 – The central proof of purchase
  4. May 7 – The central reason for religion
  5. May 14 – The central foundation of salvation
  6. May 21 – The central truth of our testimony
  7. May 28 – The central guarantee of glory

God offers refreshing relief from Evil

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I was surprised to read recently an author who called a book on cannibalism, “refreshing.” The premise of this book was this: cannibalism is common in nature—even among humans, therefore cannibalism must be no big deal. After all, it’s “natural.” What the author considered refreshing was that, “as regards this particular behavior, at least, people are no more horrifying than, or as splendidly surprising as, any other species out there.” This, he said, “restores his faith in humanity.”

While that kind of commentary might get lots of clicks on the Internet, it’s hardly a view anyone in the real world would endorse as “refreshing.” All sorts of evil, pain, suffering, and death are common and even “natural,” but that does not make evil, pain, suffering, and death any less troubling when we face it. Far from restoring faith in humanity, the kind of harm we inflict on our own kind has historically led thoughtful people to conclude something is deeply broken in mankind. We don’t need glib denial of the problem, we need some sort of intervention.

We don’t need glib denial of the problem, we need some sort of intervention.

The Scriptures of Christianity make a claim unique in all the world’s philosophies and religions—that the God of the Bible saw the evil, pain, suffering, and death we face as anything but “refreshing” or “natural.” He therefore took decisive and deliberate action to intervene on our behalf. He took human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and intervened to crush death, eradicate evil, and inaugurate a kingdom in which pain and suffering will one day be banished forever. He died to make this happen, and he rose from the dead to prove his point to the world.

We’re looking at all the wonderful ways God has intervened in human history and in our lives this Lenten season at St. Stephen Lutheran Church. Our series is just a couple weeks old and there’s still time for you to discover how the intervention of God can bring peace, hope, and love to your life. That’s something truly refreshing—not faith in humanity, but faith in the God who rescues humanity from itself.

We worship each Sunday at 9:30am. I hope you’ll pay us a visit soon.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Jesus intervenes to heal the problem within

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

One of the ways my family has tried to cope with my daughter’s leukemia diagnosis (the treatment is going very well, thanks be to God) has been to seek an explanation for what causes leukemia and what may have triggered the growth of those cancerous cells in her body. But time and time again the physicians have told us, “We don’t know what causes it, it just happens.” In fact, they told us, “We’re surprised it doesn’t happen more often.”

Perhaps you can sense why that answer seems so unsatisfying. When it comes to problems, we prefer external explanations. We prefer that our problems come from obvious agents like germs, bites, and breaks. If we can point to this decision or that substance as the cause of our suffering, at least we can regain some sense of control over the problem.

There is something truly terrifying about a problem you can’t control and can’t predict, one that just happens because of our very nature.

But a problem that comes from corruption within is far more unsettling. There is something truly terrifying about a problem you can’t control and can’t predict, one that just happens because of our very nature. When faced with such a situation, human beings are more likely to bury their heads in the sands of denial than to accept the unpredictable reality of life in a fallen world.

Mankind is, by and large, in denial about their inward, spiritual sickness called sin. Sure, we are happy to admit that “we’ve made a few mistakes” or that “there’s a lot of bad in the world,” but we’ll usually stop short of saying, “The problem lies within me, the problem corrupts me, the problem is me.”

We need an intervention. And God intervenes.

When God surveys the human condition he finds a deep sickness within us, one without excuse, one that leads to death. But he does not abandon us to our fate, he intervenes. With his own arm he works salvation and brings us to newness of life. While the problem may be within us, the solution is found outside of us, and that fact offers the kind of comfort to which nothing else can compare.

During the season of Lent at St. Stephen Lutheran we’ll be considering a wide variety of ways that God has intervened in our lives through the words and works of his Son Jesus Christ. I think you’ll find that the time of Lent is a time not just for somber recollection of our sin, but a hopeful time of healing through the teachings of Christ. I invite you to join us at one of our upcoming Sunday morning services. We worship each Sunday morning at 9:30am. Visitors are always welcome. I hope to see you soon.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Celebrate the inauguration of a kingdom that will never disappoint

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

Tomorrow the nation repeats its tradition of inaugurating a new president to govern as the nation’s chief executive. While the incoming president brings an unusually high level of controversy, there’s no denying the fact that many Americans are hopeful that President-elect Trump can deliver on his promises.

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Every new administration begins with promises of great blessing only to end with the nagging sense that opportunities were missed, promises were broken, and potential wasn’t fully realized.

Could it be that what we value can’t possibly satisfy us?

In the meantime, a president’s detractors will assign blame for the disappointment while supporters work to deflect it elsewhere. The one thing that no one ever does is to examine the very premise of our hopes and dreams. Could it be that what we value can’t possibly satisfy us?

Starting on Sunday at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re taking a close look at one of the best-known but least-understood utterances of Jesus—the Sermon on the Mount. In that famous discourse, Jesus makes the radical claim that what we value will always disappoint us because our values are out of step with the values of his eternal kingdom. The problem isn’t that we don’t push hard enough for progress, it’s that we’re pushing in the wrong direction entirely.

We’ll be looking at the counter-cultural, “uncommon sense” of the Lord Jesus for the rest of January and all of February. We’ll discover that while the way of Jesus is different than the way of the world, it is the only way that can provide lasting satisfaction and enduring blessing.

I’m looking forward to sharing Jesus’ teaching in the coming weeks and invite you to join us. We worship Sunday mornings at 9:30am—people of all ages are welcome. And if you can’t attend in person, I invite you to listen online each week by tuning in to our weekly podcast, The Sunday Sermon.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Lighten the load this Christmas

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I’ve had a heavy month. 30 days ago my daughter began a course of treatment for newly-diagnosed leukemia. The run up to Christmas is usually a busy time for pastors like me, but the flurry of hospital trips and clinic appointments has made my normal Christmas preparations seem light by comparison.

What once was a burden becomes light.

Isn’t it remarkable what a change in perspective can do in your life? What once was a burden becomes light. What once was a struggle comes more naturally. What once you missed you now notice.

This Christmas season at St. Stephen Lutheran our worship will follow the theme, “The Weight Is Over.” When God’s prophet spoke about the birth of Jesus, he said, "You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders." We’ll learn how a life centered around the words and works of Jesus lightens our burdens. More specifically we’ll discover an important nuance in his teaching—it’s not that he makes burdens seem light by doling out a few goodies here and there, he literally changes the perspective of our heart in a way that touches every aspect of life. What once was a burden becomes light. What once was a struggle comes more naturally. What once you missed you now notice.

I’ve had a heavy month, but I’m truly excited to share the message of Christmas with you this year. Please join us on Saturday, December 24th at 6:30pm for our annual Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

The pursuit of holiday happiness can make you miserable

Are you happy right now? Right at this moment? What about yesterday? Was it a good day? If you are happy, are you happy enough? Are you as happy as everyone else? How happy do you need to be?

We live in a strange, psychological paradox—we are consumed with anxiety about being happy. In fact, several studies from UC-Berkley have concluded that “the more people valued happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were.” The song might say, “Don’t worry, be happy,” but the truth is that the more we try to be happy the more we end up filled with worry. I’m afraid Bobby McFerrin may have lied to us.

The broken relationship between happiness and worry only gets worse this time of year. The countdown to Christmas has begun. Black Friday has come and gone and most budgets have been blown to bits already. My Facebook feed is full of photos of decked halls and tinseled trees. The music piped into our local stores reminds me that this is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But the buildup to Christmas doesn’t often feel all that wonderful, does it? Between deadlines and decorating, shopping and baking, the countdown to Christmas can become a heavy burden instead of a wonderful blessing. It’s as if the more we try to find holiday happiness the more we lose it.

It’s as if the more we try to find holiday happiness the more we lose it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is an answer to the anxiety that weighs each of us down. The answer is a Savior named Jesus who transferred the weight of your burden to himself that you might live in the kind of freedom and joy that only he can provide. There is an answer to the anxiety that weighs each of us down, but the answer isn’t easy. It cost Jesus his life, and it can cost us our control, our independence, and our pride. But on the other side is what the Scriptures call “the peace that passes all understanding.” That peace is what Jesus came to bring.

This month at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re building up to Christmas with a series called “The Weight Begins.” Each Sunday before Christmas we’ll explore different ways Jesus takes the weight of worry and burden of sin from us. I hope you’ll join us to take the weight away. We worship each Sunday morning at 9:30am. All are welcome, come as you are. I’d be happy to welcome you.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

We find a satisfying answer to the most important question

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

As I flicked my way through Twitter recently I came across an Inc. Magazine column called, “3 Questions From Clayton Christensen That Changed My Life Forever.” Now, that kind of headline is designed to make you click—which is exactly what I did.

Clayton Christensen is a noted American scholar, educator, and business consultant. He is perhaps best known for his theory of “disruptive innovation.” Christensen is a smart man, and his business theories are enjoying popular success. But what about those three, life-changing questions? That’s what I clicked for, and here they are:

  1. What did my 10-year-old self dream of?
  2. What kind of spouse, parent, and friend do I want to be?
  3. What do I stand for?

These are certainly good questions to ponder as you consider your life. Is your life lining up with your dreams? Are you striving to be the kind of person you want to be? And in the final reckoning, what do you stand for?

But what if the answers to these questions aren’t so exciting? What if the answers change your life, but for the worse? What if your career is a far cry from your childhood passion? What if you are anything but the kind of spouse, parent, and friend you want to be? What if you fall for everything because you stand for nothing?

Let me ask another question: What if our questions leave us hopeless?

Lutherans have a category for these kinds of questions. We call them “law.” Not law like what the Congress passes, the President signs, and the courts test, but words that only ever say “do this” but leave everything undone. Sure, there’s a place for these kinds of questions, but if we consume a steady diet of law we’ll wither and die from the inside out.

What if the one question that could change your life forever is the one from Jesus of Nazareth, “Who do you say that I am?” What if the answer to that question leaves nothing undone but says that everything is already done. What if instead of, “Do this, but it’s never done,” we heard from God himself, “Believe this and everything is already done?” Why, then your life might actually be changed—and not just here, but forever.

The rest of this month we’re paying close attention to what it means to be a Lutheran. And even if you aren’t a Lutheran you might find what makes us Lutheran refreshing because the center of our church and its theology is not “do this” but “believe this.” It’s not good advice, it’s good news—the one answer that will change your life forever.

We worship Sunday mornings at 9:30am, and I would love to see you with us one Sunday this month.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

499 years later, what does it mean?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I grew up in a Lutheran home so I’ve heard the question a million times: “What does this mean?” When we teach little Lutherans (and grown-ups, too) what the Bible says we don’t just convey the facts, we always ask—and answer—what does this mean? We want to make sure people know not just what they believe, but also why they believe it. Asking important questions and seeking relevant answers is our Lutheran identity. But I wonder if that’s what most people think of when they hear the word, “Lutheran.”

I’ll freely admit that the Lutheran tradition includes a vast canvas of people, places, and printed works that are hard to keep straight. Our history includes a bewildering array of big words like “hermeneutic,” “justification,” and “soteriology” that are hard to pronounce, let alone comprehend. On top of that, our theological forefathers were immigrants from northern Europe whose customs and language were foreign. “German” is a word that comes to mind more readily than “relevant” when you think of Lutheran identity. But is that all we are? Just an obscure immigrant tradition from old Europe? Or is our identity something more meaningful?

Now’s your chance to find out. Next year is a milestone year—500 years since the start of the Lutheran Reformation! For now, though, we’re in that most-uncelebrated of anniversary years—499 years later. But here at St. Stephen Lutheran we’re convinced now is the time to remember and recover our identity.

Lutheranism is about more than big words and potlucks—it’s about grace and freedom that changes the way we live.

Our upcoming worship series is meant to teach what the Lutheran identity is and why it matters 499 years later. In four parts, you’ll gain enlightenment without begin overwhelmed. You’ll learn the comfort the Reformation uncovered after centuries of superstition. You’ll learn not just what the Bible teaches, but why it matters today. You might even discover that Lutheranism is about more than big words and potlucks—it’s about grace and freedom that changes the way we live.

I grew up in a Lutheran home and I’m a Lutheran pastor so it’s reasonable if you assume Lutheranism is just my personal preference. But before you write it off, please take the time to explore for yourself what it means after all these 499 years. You’ll discover that we don’t talk about the truths of the Reformation because they’re part of our family history, but because they’re vital for our future.

We worship Sunday mornings at 9:30am. I hope I’ll see you then.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Escaping the impossible quest for perfection

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

Women live in the anxious process of always comparing while being compared. Long aisles of makeup and a steady supply of ads promise to make women beautiful in the eyes of others, and many women report that the only way to stay ahead in this twisted game is to do just that—think of themselves always through the judging eyes of “the other.”

In a recent book called “Face Value — The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives,” author Autumn Whitefield–Madrano writes about something we often think of as a modern problem—the impossible quest for perfection. While I have no doubt that today’s always-on technology has only added fuel to this fire, the problem of the impossible quest for perfection is an ancient one.

Women know the routine quite well. Those minutes in front of the mirror every day aren’t as much about beauty as they are about a mental review of the insecurities, anxieties, and questions that wrinkle your face over the years. And the foundation isn’t blotting any of it away.

Men have their own version. The mirror reveals that paunch inching further and further over the waistband of your underwear, pound after unwanted pound a reminder that your youth is swiftly fading and with it your sense of strength. Sucking it in isn’t helping, either.

It’s simple biology, but the consequences are profound—as long as we seek identity in beauty and strength we’ll be left empty. A lifetime spent feeding the insatiable hunger for beauty and strength can only leave us unlovable and unloved, impotent and despised. And how these hungers shape our thoughts and actions may not be as hidden as we imagine.

Jesus is uniquely qualified to both know our emptiness and fill it with a transcendent love that we can never achieve through our own beauty and strength.

At St. Stephen Lutheran we’ve been working through a series called “Hierarchy of Hunger.” In this series we’ve considered how Jesus both identifies and satisfies our deepest human hungers for sustenance, security, identity, and purpose. Because Jesus demonstrated himself to be both God and man, he is uniquely qualified to both know our emptiness and fill it with a transcendent love that we can never achieve through our own beauty and strength.

That series continues for a few more weeks at St. Stephen Lutheran, and I’d like to invite you to come hear more. You may discover that an identity defined by faith in Jesus Christ satisfies your hungers so fully that you never look at yourself in the mirror the same way again.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

How to never be hungry again

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

What do you need?

Do you need some time off? Extra cash? Help in a crisis? Fulfillment at work? Satisfaction as a parent?

What do you need?

Just reading that question might make you anxious. If so, I apologize for adding to your anxiety, but I believe there are some important things to say about our needs.

First of all, we have to recognize that our needs are real. Needs are not some illusion we have to transcend, nor is desire some evil to be quenched religious practice. Each human being has genuine needs for a healthy body. Each human being has genuine needs for a healthy soul. We are right to desire something to meet those needs. Where we go wrong is what we use to fill those needs.

Take our diets for example. As I write today it’s almost lunchtime—I’m hungry. I’m tempted to eat the rest of that bag of chips leftover from our picnic last weekend. While those chips will satisfy my growling stomach, they’re not really the best choice for my health. I can satisfy my need, but I often do so in a way that could actually harm me over the long run.

We were born with a deeper hunger, one that all the stuff and success in the world just cannot satisfy.

The same is true for our souls. Every human soul is filled with a longing for the satisfaction that God created us to enjoy. While most of us have more than we can fit into our cupboards, closets, and garages, we still feel completely unfulfilled much of the time. Why is that? It’s evidence that we were born with a deeper hunger, one that all the stuff and success in the world just cannot satisfy. We’re always hungry for more. So we always go looking for more. And there’s no end in sight.

The truth is, there’s only one path that actually satisfy the longing in our soul.

When Jesus of Nazareth called himself the “Bread of Life,” he made the bold claim that he alone can fulfill humanity’s deepest longings. At St. Stephen Lutheran we’ll be examining Jesus’ claims over the next several weeks in worship. Together we’ll see how Jesus, the Bread of Life, shows us what we’re really hungering for—and where we can find it.

If you think this sounds cliché, then I’d challenge you to come hear the case for Jesus’ ability to satisfy our deepest hunger. I’m convinced that it’s true, and our teaching at St. Stephen Lutheran will cover this topic starting on Sunday, July 17. You may discover that anxiety is not necessary. You may discover that your soul can indeed be satisfied. You may never be hungry again.

We worship on Sunday mornings at 9:30am. All guests and visitors are welcome. Come as you are. I hope to see you there.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Where does your help come from?

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

I can hardly imagine the terror of sailing across an open sea exposed and alone in the middle of a terrible storm. I’d be desperate for help from anyone. Call the Coast Guard, hail a passing ship, get into the lifeboat!

The news lately has been full of stories about men, women, and children making the perilous sea crossing into Europe seeking a better life. Many have died without finding the help they so desperately sought. My heart breaks for them and I’ve become more conscious of the blessing of living in a stable, prosperous nation like the United States.

But if I’m really honest, I have to admit that I think of my help as coming from God and not being God himself. What do I mean by that? I am aware of the gifts of peace, prosperity, and safety, but I don’t often connect those gifts to the giver—God himself.

True help is not in problems solved but in the name of the Lord—and his name is Jesus.

On Sunday I’m continuing to preach on our series called “Anchor in the Storm.” I’ll be preaching on the account of Jesus sleeping—yes, sleeping!—in the back of a boat that was about to capsize in a fearful storm. In that account we see the remarkable power of Jesus to calm the storm, but we also see the startling fact that even after Jesus had removed the source of fear his disciples were still afraid.

The only explanation is that they thought having their problems solved was the help they needed when in reality their heart yearned for something far more powerful than relief from danger. Their hearts yearned for God himself, but they weren’t quite ready yet to place their full trust and confidence in Jesus as God-in-flesh. The radical new logic of the gospel hadn't caused them to move on from their desire for power and control.

You don’t have to be in a sinking boat to experience what the disciples felt. All human beings encounter the longing for something more than relief. All people long for true help that transcends all things. We think that help comes from power and control over this life and the people around us, but control and power never satisfies. True help is not in problems solved but in the name of the Lord—and his name is Jesus.

Join us this Sunday and in the weeks to come for more on this topic. We worship on Sunday mornings at 9:30am. I’d be glad to have you as our guest.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Warning: Storms ahead

Dear friends in Fallbrook,

In life, storms are both inevitable and unavoidable. The only question is: What will you hold onto when they hit? Most of what passes for religion—and even Christianity—today does little to provide the certainty and security we need. Too often we're pointed to our own strength and resolve to get us through. In contrast, Jesus provided exactly what we need by sending his Holy Spirit into the world on the day of Pentecost. As he promised, the Spirit's work is nothing more than to continually point us to Jesus. Jesus' work for us and his promises to us give us something solid outside of us to hold onto that is stronger than any storm.

We’re starting a new time of the Christian year at St. Stephen Lutheran this Sunday. From Advent to Easter we review the acts of Jesus. From Pentecost through the autumn we review the teachings of Jesus. Over the next seven weeks we’ll see something in common among the lessons we’ll read from Scripture—God provides an anchor to hold onto during the tumult of this life, and each anchor is stronger than the alternative.

On Sunday, May 15 we’ll start off by seeing that sending is stronger than staying. Then each week we’ll continue with the following themes:

  • Three stronger than one — May 22
  • Rest stronger than work — May 29
  • Family stronger than foes — June 5
  • Seed stronger than sight — June 12
  • Faith stronger than fear — June 19
  • Hope stronger than death — June 26

If you’ve ever felt that what Christianity tries to offer seems weak and hollow, you may be surprised to find that I agree. Over the next seven weeks I’ll be preaching from the Bible on that very topic. We’ll challenge ourselves to evaluate whether what we think are strong anchors for life truly are what we need.

Please join us on Sunday mornings at 9:30am for worship as we find an anchor in the storm, certainty and security stronger than any storm. We’re glad to have you with us.

Serving in Christ,

Pastor Bassett

Can you have truth without love or love without truth?

Dear friends,

Hard to believe, but the idea of “love” has become one of the most controversial topics in America. How did something so universal become something so divisive? And what is the relationship between love and truth? I believe Christianity has a useful perspective to cut through the mess.

On the one hand there is “truthless love.” You’ve seen this. For a growing part of our society, the word “love” simply means “affection for something you like.” The defining feature of today’s version of love, though, is that we decide what to love and for how long. When something becomes unlovable we easily abandon it and move on. We trade in our spouses, our jobs, and our churches—you name it—for a better version. There’s no ultimate truth or stability in this kind of love. Truthless love cannot endure because it has no foundation beyond social convention or mutual agreement. Truthless love also really hurts. You probably know this from hard experience.

But the Christian Bible describes love as something built on the foundation of an ultimate, unchanging truth—the existence of God and his work of salvation for you. Truthful love endures, and actually fosters trust, which in turn finds expression in life-transforming deeds and habits. We know this not only because God described himself as love (which would be nice, but not really good news), but because he put his money where is mouth was and demonstrated that love is a commitment to the unlovable when he died for us on the cross. That's a truth worth cherishing; that's really good news because God demonstrates his love to us even when we don’t do the same!

But let's also watch out for loveless truth! When Christians (rightfully) stand up for what’s right and true we often lash out instead of reaching out. Loveless truth expressed with strident slogans cannot accomplish what genuine love has and will continue to accomplish. The Christian Bible urges followers of Jesus to imitate his example and demonstrate the truth in love. This kind of love breeds patience and endurance, both of which are healthy practices in an age where favor quick fixes over genuine solutions. You know what a blessing that is when you have it.

These are hard topics. They deserve your attention. I'll be tackling these topics in my preaching in worship at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in the next few weeks, particularly on April 24 and May 1. Our services begin on Sunday at 9:30am. I hope I get to see you there.

What’s the big deal about Easter, anyway?

Easter Sunday is almost here and Christian pastors like me are up to their eyeballs in tasks to prepare for the big day. There are services to plan, breakfast to organize, and an egg hunt to get settled. The whole church pitches in, really, to make Easter a special day for families. But, honestly, why are we putting in so much work just for a “special day for families?” I don’t have to go to church for that, I can just go to Disneyland—and I’d probably have more fun, too! What’s the big deal about Easter, anyway? Well, the answer is in one word: resurrection.

The resurrection of Jesus is the central truth of Christianity itself. Jesus of Nazareth—who claimed to be God in the flesh and was subsequently executed by the Roman government—rose bodily from the dead and appeared to hundreds of eyewitnesses, many of whom had seen him dead. This historical event happened at a real place and at a real time in front of real people. And they were just as skeptical as we would be at the thought of someone coming back from the dead—to say nothing about God coming to earth as a human being to deliver eternal life by his death! This fact so thoroughly convinced the witnesses that they staked their lives and reputations on the proclamation of this good news: Jesus Christ died to pay for your sin and rose again to prove it. Life does not end when we die.

If Christianity is just about helping us get by in this life then I want nothing to do with it.

Of course, that’s heavy stuff. Since each of us has a hard time comprehending what life might look like after we die, we often settle for a religion that can just help us get by in this life. And as long as something like Christianity keeps the kids in line, keeps the spouse from cheating, and makes us feel a little better compared with the rest of the world then we might be willing to show up for it. But I’ll be honest, if that’s all Christianity is about then I want nothing to do with it, and neither should you. I’ll hang up my pastor’s robe and turn in the keys to the church so I can find something more meaningful to do with my Sunday mornings—not to mention my life!

As it turns out, that’s exactly how the earliest Christians felt, including Jesus Christ’s messenger, the Apostle Paul. This is what he wrote about it:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:14–15)

Paul knew full well that Christianity without the resurrection becomes nothing more than a strange moral philosophy. And worse, with no resurrection that strange moral philosophy becomes truly useless. Christianity has no point if it tackles behavior and not death.

But there is good news:

Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 20–22)

Despite what you may have heard, biblical Christianity is not about getting your life in line, it’s about solving life’s most dangerous challenge: death. The historical record assures us that Jesus of Nazareth has risen from the dead, and so will all who are united to him by faith.

I hope you’ll take time this Easter to gather with us at St. Stephen Lutheran Church to hear more about the resurrection and its importance for life in our hymns and message. We worship at 9:30am on Easter Sunday. I’ll see you then.

Moving from prediction to proof

The big news in the scientific community this month was the discovery of “gravitational waves,” the most esoteric part of Einstein’s theory of relativity. The discovery proves something that had, until now, only been a prediction. The nature of gravity has moved from theory into fact.

Along with Christians across the globe, we at St. Stephen Lutheran are observing the time of Lent. Most people seem to know Lent as the time right after Mardi Gras, but Lent is much more than that. During Lent we consider our mortality and the cause of it. All human beings die, and the Bible has always told us why: sin. Each and every death in history is observable proof of what the Bible says: “The soul that sins is the soul that dies.” Death moves the prediction of sin and its effects from theory into fact.

While it might seem a little morbid to think about sin and death, we find that it is quite refreshing—necessary, even. Like rebooting your computer, a healthy reflection of our mortality can clean out a lot of old cruft. Christians leave the mess of sin and death at the foot of the cross and look forward with anticipation to the celebration of Easter and the victory of Jesus Christ over mortality.

Our Lenten series this year is called, “The Story of the Lamb.” The Bible is from beginning to end the story of the Lamb. The one John pointed to and said, “Look, the Lamb of God” is the same one who said, ”These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” This Lenten season we will search those Scriptures to see for ourselves the story of the Lamb. Through this Lamb God has written eternal salvation into our life's story.

We worship on Sunday mornings at 9:30am, and you are always welcome to be our guest.

January 2016 Family Art Workshop

On January 23, 2016 people aged 5 to 50+ gathered for a morning of fun and friendship at Family Art Workshop from St. Stephen Lutheran. Family Art Workshop offers people of all ages the opportunity to disconnect from technology and build a creative connection with one another in the shared experience of creating a work of art. St. Stephen member, Niki Hilsabeck, plans and coordinates the workshops. January’s theme was “Cool Colors.” Participants painted a vineyard scene using the cool side of the color wheel.

The surprising face of Jesus

Last year a research team of forensic anthropologists released an image of what they say is "the most accurate image" of the face of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, there is no physical evidence or written description of Jesus' appearance, so it would be a stretch to say these scientists discovered what Jesus actually looked like. It seems that their true achievement was to produce the most accurate image of what an average man of Jesus' day and region may have looked like. And that's where this gets interesting.

Searching for a message that matters

I don't know about you, but I can hardly pay attention to the news anymore. There are so many voices vying for attention I don't know who I can trust. Whether it's liberal vs. conservative, church vs. state, or any of the hundreds of other conflicting ideas in the world it just seems like everything is a battle where the boundaries are always changing. What seems true today may be false tomorrow. I wonder aloud, "Where is the certainty in all this?"

Here at St. Stephen we've been searching for a message that matters, some good news that can stand the test of time. In Jesus we have found the one through whom God himself has spoken graciously, compassionately, and definitively. If that sounds like too much that's because it is. Jesus is the radiance of God's glory; encountering him will be a little unsettling. But that unsettling glory isn't meant to leave us terrified, but comforted. In Christ, God was reconciling us to himself, not counting our sins against us any longer. The more we learn about Jesus the more we realize there is a voice we can trust over the mess of life in this world, and his voice tells us remarkable truths about why we exist and what God has done for us.

I'd like to invite you to hear more this Christmas Eve in our candlelight service. All are welcome, including children. The service begins at 6:30pm on December 24th. I hope I get to see you then.